President Trump, Get The USS Pueblo Back [VIDEO]
President Trump, Get The USS Pueblo Back [VIDEO]
As a member of a military family, I appreciate the return of the remains of our Korean War dead more than I can fully express. We honor our unknown war dead diligently and faithfully, but not knowing the last resting place of your loved one is indescribably difficult. But Mr. President, there is something else that must be done. It’s an oft-forgotten moment in history, but at the time, it gripped the nation. Maybe you remember it. Mr. President, please tell Kim Jong-un to return the USS Pueblo to us.
The story of the USS Pueblo is not one that makes it into the history books these days except as a footnote in history, though in 1968, it was the equivalent of the Iran hostage crisis or what is now called the “Hainan Island incident” when the Chinese forced down an American spy plane in April 2001. In the latter case, American servicemen only spent 10 days being held by the Chinese. In the case of the Pueblo, Commander Lloyd Bucher and his crew, having suffered one fatality in the initial attack, were held captive for 11 months.
According to U.S. reports, the Pueblo was in international waters almost 16 miles from shore, but the North Koreans turned their guns on the lightly armed vessel and demanded its surrender. The Americans attempted to escape, and the North Koreans opened fire, wounding the commander and two others. With capture inevitable, the Americans stalled for time, destroying the classified information aboard while taking further fire. Several more crew members were wounded.
Finally, the Pueblo was boarded and taken to Wonson. There, the 83-man crew was bound and blindfolded and transported to Pyongyang, where they were charged with spying within North Korea’s 12-mile territorial limit and imprisoned. It was the biggest crisis in two years of increased tension and minor skirmishes between the United States and North Korea.
The United States maintained that the Pueblo had been in international waters and demanded the release of the captive sailors. With the Tet Offensive raging 2,000 miles to the south in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson ordered no direct retaliation, but the United States began a military buildup in the area. North Korean authorities, meanwhile, coerced a confession and apology out of Pueblo commander Bucher, in which he stated, “I will never again be a party to any disgraceful act of aggression of this type.” The rest of the crew also signed a confession under threat of torture.
The prisoners were then taken to a second compound in the countryside near Pyongyang, where they were forced to study propaganda materials and beaten for straying from the compound’s strict rules. In August, the North Koreans staged a phony news conference in which the prisoners were to praise their humane treatment, but the Americans thwarted the Koreans by inserting innuendoes and sarcastic language into their statements. Some prisoners also rebelled in photo shoots by casually sticking out their middle finger; a gesture that their captors didn’t understand. Later, the North Koreans caught on and beat the Americans for a week.
On December 23, 1968, exactly 11 months after the Pueblo‘s capture, U.S. and North Korean negotiators reached a settlement to resolve the crisis. Under the settlement’s terms, the United States admitted the ship’s intrusion into North Korean territory, apologized for the action, and pledged to cease any future such action. That day, the surviving 82 crewmen walked one by one across the “Bridge of No Return” at Panmunjon to freedom in South Korea. They were hailed as heroes and returned home to the United States in time for Christmas.
And for 50 years, the North Koreans have used the Pueblo – which is still listed as an active duty Navy ship – as their own museum and trophy piece.
And for 50 years, the Pueblo‘s crew has waited for their ship to be returned.
But the USS Pueblo itself remained in North Korean captivity, as it does to this day. So did ten encryption machines and thousands of pages of top secret documents seized from the ship.
“There’d been a tremendous loss, much worse than than originally was feared,” says Act of War author Cheevers. “One of the NSA historians described it as everyone’s worst nightmare, and it was considered the worst intelligence loss in modern history.”
Today aboard the Pueblo in Pyongyang, visitors are shown a video featuring a narrator who triumphantly proclaims, “The U.S.. imperialists went down on their knees again before the independent army and people of Korea, and signed the instrument of surrender.”
“It was a ransom note that was signed by Gen. Woodward,” says Murphy of the pre-repudiated confession that freed him. “Did our administration save lives by doing what they did? Saved my life. “
But the forbearance (President) Johnson was willing to show in the Pueblo incident may well have been at the expense of growing North Korean defiance. Van Jackson, who was the Pentagon’s top Korea adviser during the Obama administration, says the ship-seizing episode strengthened North Korea’s belief in its strength as a David versus Goliath.
“It was a hell of an embarrassment to the United States – it still is,” says Jackson. “But for North Korea this was a very proud moment that emboldened them to do more of this activity – they look at America’s track record of restraint and that’s what they learned from.”
And that’s the rub: caving in to Pyongyang’s demand did ultimately free Pueblo‘s crew and avoid war. But North Korea seems to have learned from the episode that standing up to a military colossus – much as it’s doing today with its nuclear weapons buildup – is a risk worth taking.
Former crewman Chicca thinks if any other lessons were to be learned from the Pueblo incident, they were likely lost on the U.S. Navy.
“I think they would prefer to forget it occurred,” he scoffs, “and the Pueblo is an Indian village in the desert – not a ship”.
But right now, with the remains of our war dead coming home, there is a chance to bring awareness to the public about the status of the Pueblo and bring her home.
Be honest, unless you lived through the 60’s, the story of the USS Pueblo isn’t one that you remember. And I did not live through the 60’s. What I did have was a high school history teacher who handed me his well-preserved LIFE magazine from early 1969 with Commander Bucher on the cover, who said, “You need to write your next research paper on this. You’ll do a good job with it. No one remembers this story any more.” In the mid-90’s, all I had to write that paper was the LIFE magazine article and Bucher’s autobiography. And yes, I got an A.
Fifty years after the Pueblo‘s capture, barely anyone knows this story, or knows that the ship is now the second-oldest active ship in the Navy, and it sits docked in Pyongyang, unable to leave, a relic of the past and a finger in the eye of the surviving crew.
Mr. President, it’s time to bring the USS Pueblo home.